Although I coached youth girls basketball on two short-lived occasions, I quickly realized refereeing was my thing.
I now officiate hoops all of the time. And I strongly believe Cloquet boys basketball Coach Steve Battaglia made the right call in the team's last game of the season.
During last month's 64-58 loss to Grand Rapids in the Section 7AAA final, Battaglia substituted out freshman reserve guard Jordan Diver, who happens to be Native American, several times down the stretch in a late-game tactic to stick with the Thunderhawks.
Thirteen days following the game, in last week's edition of the Pine Journal, a shocking letter to the editor was published inferring that Battaglia was a racist for removing Diver from the contest.
In my opinion, it wasn't racism, but strategy.
Battaglia, who played four seasons of varsity basketball in Cloquet and recently completed his eighth year as head coach, was simply using substitution regulations to his advantage.
While Diver did spark the Lumberjacks with his 11 points off the bench -- including a rare four-point play late in the second half -- the sharp-shooter was removed on defensive possessions and then re-entered back in to play offensively.
Frantically subbing players in and out during the late stages of a basketball game -- especially one being played for a championship -- is something coaches do often, both in prep sports and higher levels of play. Often, a player will only be on the sidelines for a matter of a second or two, and at times, won't even sit down, but stand and wait to be reinstated back into play quicker than a drink of water.
In most cases, a player is in foul trouble and a coach does not want them to foul out defensively, eliminating their offensive production. In the case of Diver, Battaglia appeared to remove him in order to shore up his team's defense and preserve the diminutive player's threat for offense only.
Anyone who has played, watched or officiated basketball -- and I've done them all this season -- has seen and should understand this. It's a widely-known plan for the betterment of a team.
Furthermore, Diver wasn't the only one removed from the game at that time. Several of his teammates were also taken out and -- within seconds -- returned to play.
To me, Battaglia's play-calling was spot-on. I was there, in the bleachers -- standing at times -- to watch how the game ended.
That evening, Battaglia did everything he could to put his team in a position to be victorious, both on offense and defense. He wanted to win that game as much as anyone did.
And as disappointing as it was to watch Cloquet lose its third section final in five years, perhaps the most disappointing item broke on last week's opinion page.
Battaglia wasn't being a racist.
He was being a basketball coach.